How Sendak may be more realistic than Sunday school or catechism class…
Where the Wild Things Are is a dark book for a dark universe, according to Dr. Russell Moore. In a recent article in Touchstone magazine, “Death of a Wild Thing,” Dr. Moore offers some provocative reflections on how this book demonstrates the “horrors of a domesticated Gospel.”
[Maurice Sendak], at least in his artistic imagination, recognized something the Christian revelation tells us clearly. Worse than what’s “out there” is the uncontrollable “wildness” inside of us, those passions and desires and rages and longings and sorrows within our psyches that seem to be even scarier because they’re so hidden, so close, and so much at the core of who we are. The wildness within us doesn’t seem to end, either. It just morphs throughout one’s lifetime: from toddler-age tantrums to teenage hormones to midlife crises to, well, sometimes a lonely, cynical elderly person facing death. …
At the time the book was published, the psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim said the scary nature of the story wasn’t found with the wild things at all. It was found in the “time out” in the room itself. Being sent to one’s room alone, and without food, he argued, represents desertion, the worst threat a child can face. And maybe that’s what Sendak feared the most.
It’s one thing for psychiatrists to be fussy about such things, but I’m amazed when Christians are. Some wag their heads at books such as Wild Things. They complain about how “dark” books like these are. Of course they’re “dark.” Isn’t that what the gospel is here to tell us? The universe is dark; dark enough to be overcome only by the Light of Galilee. Until we learn to communicate this to our children with winsomeness and gravity, Maurice Sendak will seem more realistic than Sunday school or catechism class.
Too many of our Bible study and discipleship materials (whether for Baptist Vacation Bible School or Roman Catholic confirmation preparation or what have you) de-claw the Bible. They excise all the snakes and dragons and wildness. In so doing, they reduce the Bible to a set of ethical guidelines and a text on how gentle and kind Jesus is.
The problem is, our kids know there are monsters out there. God put that awareness in them. They’re looking for a sheep-herding dragon-slayer, for the One who can put all the wild things under his feet. Until we can address, with gospel honesty, what scares our children—and ourselves—we can never get to the joyous wild rumpus of gospel freedom. …
The Word came into the world, and the wildness did not overcome it.
“Death of a Wild Thing” first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Touchstone and is available online.
Russell D. Moore is the author of Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches. He lives with his family in Louisville, Kentucky, where he serves as Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.